Implementation and Management Approach
The Wireless Leiden Foundation has established a fast, open and inexpensive wireless community network for the Dutch city of Leiden and surrounding villages. Whilst similar initiatives exist in other cities, like Seattle, San Francisco, Portland and New York, we believe that Leiden has a unique approach with greater potential. We are building a local network, technically comparable to the Internet, but standing alone and functioning independently. It is fast, inexpensive, and extremely well suited for local communication and community Internet access. The unique character of our approach was recognised when the Foundation received the 2003 'Vosko Award' for network pioneers. It is one of the largest outdoor WiFi-networks in the world.
We are a non-profit foundation, and believe this to be essential for the success and managing expenses of the project. We do not build isolated hot spots; rather we set up wirelessly connected nodes. These nodes are the access points to the network for houses and offices in their direct surroundings. Also mobile users and visitors with a laptop can connect. For Internet connection via the network, it is not required that each and every node has an Internet connection itself. In theory, one gateway would suffice. Currently, several gateways are operational. Individual users can also share their Internet connection, not only with their direct neighbours, but also with people on the other side of town.
We want this local network to have easy and free access, both for making a connection, for delivering information and services over the network and for experimenting with new applications.
The project is built on enthusiasm and organisational ability. Expenses are kept low through using inexpensive hardware, open standards, open source software - and foremost volunteers: in a cooperative, non-profit and planned approach.
Research and Development:
The WiFi network of Wireless Leiden offers the unique possibility to develop and test new techniques and applications. That's why we work together with several research institutions, like the 'Centre for Technology and Innovation Management' (CeTIM), the Institute for Societal Innovation (IMI), the 'Leiden University School of Management' (LUSM) en the 'Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science' (LIACS). E.g. we have set up an advanced network management system in cooperation with LIACS.
Organisation of volunteers:
A group of professional volunteers with experience in and knowledge of a whole range of disciplines, like radio technology, network planning, innovation management and public relations, form the core of Wireless Leiden. Formally, we have established a foundation, rather than an association with members, in order to enable quick decision-making and minimise red tape. Since we don't have commercial interests, we can easily cooperate with commercial and non-commercial parties. We do stimulate and facilitate commercial activities around our network by others and as spin-offs. Several spin-offs have indeed sprung up already.
We publish our experiences and the know-how we've developed on our website www.wirelessleiden.nl (currently mainly in Dutch). True to the open source philosophy, we do not expect others to 'reinvent the wheel'. We encourage serious and enthusiastic people in other cities to copy our project and provide feedback.
Wireless Leiden organises - except on occasions, published on the website - a walk-in consultancy every Wednesday evening. Anybody who wants to know more about Wireless Leiden, technical details or anything else, or anybody who wants to contact us for any reason is more than welcome.
Cooperative framework, social network:
The expenses of a WiFi network can be minimal, partly because no licence costs have to be paid. WiFi uses a free frequency band: anybody can use it. Of course this advantage is also a disadvantage, as one person's signal is another person's noise, so the risk of WiFi failing due to its very success lurks. Hence, a coordinated approach is required. Also, a coherent network is much more valuable for all users compared to individual wireless solutions. Take the example of a company with two offices in town. Without a line of sight, the offices cannot be interconnected with a direct WiFi connection. However, the offices can become interconnected via the Wireless Leiden network, and not only that, they are also connected to many other locations in town.
Our approach aims to make it more attractive for each interested party to join the network, rather then trying to WiFi on their own. Hence our appeal to companies, the university, the city government, organisations and citizens to join.
A cooperative, non-profit approach also enables free access to strategic locations for placing the nodes. In contrast, a for-profit company would be asked to pay for rooftop access.
Almost all our expenses are for hardware for the nodes, and we have been successful in securing sponsors to pay for the nodes in exchange for naming the node after them, which works quite well.
We believe that a non-profit approach to the WiFi-infrastructure is more sustainable: the WiFi frequency band is a shared medium, nobody has a monopoly claim, and cooperation is required. Commercial WiFi-infrastructure providers are not always willing to work together, whereas cooperating with Wireless Leiden almost always results in win-win situations.
Basic network structure:
Our approach has been to first realise a basis network infrastructure, aiming to cover the whole city. We have laid a 'grid' of 'ideal' locations for nodes over the city map, based on an interlink distance of about 800 meters (about 0.5 miles). We try to place a real node close to the 'ideal' location, but that of course also depends on the possibilities offered by users and participating companies and organisations.